Thousands of Penn State students poured into the streets of State College, overturning cars and tussling with police after the university decided to fire coach Joe Paterno late last night. Paterno had offered to resign at the end of the football season, but the Board of Trustees dismissed him and university president Graham Spanier immediately.
The gathering didn't exactly devolve into a full-fledged riot, but police did resort to pepper spray and some arrests to disperse students. The worst trouble makers threw bricks and bottles at police, smashed car windows, and overturned a TV news van adding more embarrassment and heartache to an already troubled community. But as CBS Sports pointed out, the fact that there was very little resistence to the police crackdown shows their hearts were really in it.
Some students protested peacefully, while other simply came out to be a part of the scene. The Daily Collegian, PSU's student newspaper has some excellent coverage and an extensive slideshow of the events. (Photo via Tyler Sizemore/Collegian)
Like pretty much every aspect of this sad scandal, even the firings lacked conviction and clarity. Paterno was told of his firing over the phone and when asked why it had to happen now, board vice chairman John Surma said, "I'm not sure I can tell you specifically. In our view, we thought change now was necessary."
Meanwhile, assistant coach Mike McQueary — who actually witnessed the abuse — and two other Penn State employees who were indicted for perjury, were not fired. (One took a leave of absence and the other retired. For now, it looks like McQueary will coach on Saturday.)
After the announcement, Paterno appeared outside his house to briefly address the media and the hundreds of supporters who gathered out front.
It's hard to fully appreciate, if you're never been around that community, just how entwined Paterno is with the self-image of Penn State. His name is on buildings, his statue is a campus landmark, and he and his wife (who is equally beloved) are fixtures at charity and school events. When alumni, even non-football fans, say they think of the couple as a second mother and father, they mean it. Losing him, especially under these circumstances, is a devastating blow and one they won't get over anytime soon.
The Nittany Lions have three regular-season games left, and possibly two post-season games, if they reach the Big 10 Championship. Saturday is Senior Day, the final home game of the year, which is meant to be a celebration for departing players, but will probably now feel more like a funeral. Just two weeks ago, Paterno broke the record for most victories by a head coach in Division I football.